5.86 2 Kings -- the End of Israel
Menahem's dynasty didn't last long, since his son was assassinated. The murderer, Pekah, became the next-to-last king of Israel. He made an alliance with Rezin of Aram against Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16:5). The Edomites took advantage of this attack to throw off their servitude to Judah (2 Kings 16:6). Ahaz, besieged in Jerusalem, sent a cry for help to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (plus a costly bribe of Temple treasures). This precipitated an invasion from the East into both Aram and Israel. Tiglath killed Rezin, and conquered large sections of Israel's territory (732 BC) -- the northern and eastern portions (2 Kings 15:29). Many of the prominent inhabitants of the land were forcibly deported to Assyria, while the common people were left to work the fields.
Hoshea succeeded Pekah by murder (2 Kings 15:30), fittingly enough, since 3 of the previous 4 kings of Israel had been assassinated by their successors. He became a vassal of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V. But Hoshea rebelled against his overlord, in the hopes that Egypt would come to his aid. This brought the might of Assyria again upon Israel: Shalmaneser besieged Samaria for 3 years, then took it and imprisoned Hoshea. There was a second wave of deportations (722 BC). This effectively ended the independent nation of Israel and the people's identity as the children of Abraham. These exiles became known to posterity as the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel.
Chapter 17 is the epitaph for these people. It reviews the history of Israel from the Exodus on, from the point of view of justifying God's actions of judgment. It lists the sins of Israel:
-- fearing other gods
-- following customs of other nations
-- building high places and pillars
-- despising God's statutes and the covenant
-- ignoring the warnings of the prophets
-- serving Asherah, two gold calves, Baal, the hosts of heaven
-- burning their sons and daughters as offerings
-- using divination and sorcery.
Israel was not the only guilty party:
Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence (2 Kings 17:18-20).
The independent kingdom of Israel lasted 300 years, from 1020-722 BC. It had never been a success. From its very founding, it had gone astray. Yet this is not the whole story. There were, first of all, the numerous bands of prophets, seemingly spread over the land in every town. There were the 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). There was the Shunammite woman. There was Jehonadab the Rechabite and others like him.
The real failure was at the top, in the leadership of the nation. There we see a total loss of identity and godly vision. Jeroboam set a low standard to begin with, but Ahab was even worse. His marriage to Jezebel set in motion the active paganization of the land, and the disestablishment of the worship of Yahweh. Even Jehu the avenger "did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat" (2 Kings 10:31). This was the critical failure of Israel: imagine, for a moment, Exodus without Moses, or the invasion of Canaan without Joshua. And then imagine such a leadership vacuum going on for 300 years. That is Israel -- and the end result was desolation, dissolution, and ultimately disinheritance.
But there is that dual movement we again note in the Bible, the casting off and the grafting in, as God finetunes His focus in history. The path of history is littered with the fallen, the unchosen: Lot, Ishmael, Esau, their descendants, the Canaanites, the kings of Israel. But that is just half the picture: there is a counter-wave, though much smaller: Asenath, Zipporah, Jael, Rahab, Ruth, the widow of Zarephath, Naaman. And this inclusion of the widow and Naaman occurred at the very time that the majority of Jacob's offspring were sloughed off. None of this is random, there is a divine purpose at work, but the majority of mankind, then and now, miss the meaning. And the failure to align one's life with the Spirit of God present on earth is a tragic, a fatal, omission. For the only true value of humanity is that one's life builds up God's work on earth:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mat 6:33).
Failure to observe this one ultimate principle dooms an individual, and a nation, to ultimate insignificance, to being "lost" within history and for eternity. In losing connection with God, one also surrenders personal identity, a true knowledge of the self and its purpose. One is cast adrift at sea without a compass or a pole star. This was Israel in its decline. In severing the observance of their covenant with God, they lost their homeland, their nationality, their distinctiveness among the peoples of the earth. They were dispersed into the common genepool of mankind. But the judgments of God are as mysterious as they are final. Upon the gravestone of the 10 Lost Tribes, one reads the following inscription:
And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem (Isa 27:13 RSV).